Campus buildings disrupt bird migratory patterns

Despite implementation of bird safety techniques, many birds continue to fly into campus buildings

By Peyton Alie

Every year, approximately 7 million birds migrate through the city of Chicago as they travel the Mississippi Flyaway, one of the primary migration routes for North American birds. However, for these birds, buildings throughout the city, including on UChicago’s campus, can be deadly. As the University constructs new glass buildings, it is working to reduce hazards for birds on campus.

Tens of thousands of birds are killed annually by flying into tall buildings because they mistake reflective windows for open sky or are attracted to lights at night. Buildings with reflective glass exteriors, such as the new William Eckhardt Research Center, which opened this fall, are particularly dangerous.

According to University spokesman Steve Koppes, architect James Carpenter used the best bird safety techniques available at the time when designing the Eckhardt Research Center, such as physical extensions separating the building’s flat and opaque glass surfaces. Nonetheless, students have amassed dozens of dead birds on the ground by the building.

“What should be done, in my opinion, now that the glass is up and killing tons of birds, is that the University should stop building glass buildings and start listening to real ecologists on campus to get advice about what will not be as detrimental to Chicago birds,” said third-year biology major Emily Lipstein, who has helped collect dead birds along with other students as part of an informal “dead birds society.” “For the current glass buildings, predatory bird decals can be affixed to the windows to scare the birds away.”

The University is currently determining how to make buildings on campus safer for birds.

“We are taking steps to reduce the risk across campus, including at the Eckhardt Research Center. Those steps include designing the building to avoid trapping birds in interior courtyards or alcoves that contain food, vegetation, and water, and treating windows to make them more visible to birds within 300 feet of landscaped areas with food, habitat, or water,” Koppes said.

The designs for Campus North Residential Hall and Dining Commons, which is slated to open in fall 2016, were specifically developed with bird safety in mind. The building will feature fritted glass windows, which combine dotted patterns of opaque glass with clear glass to make the windows more visible to birds.

“[Campus North] is designed to meet our bird safe criteria. Architect Jeanne Gang is very engaged with bird safety issues, and we continue to examine the design and construction to determine whether additional bird-safe measures are required. Those discussions continue,” Koppes said.